I am pleased to introduce Professor G.Rangarajan (GR), IIT Madras through my blog this week. Mr.GR has spent his first 25 years in Srirangam and was educated at The High School for boys, Srirangam and later at St.Joseph's College,Trichy. Prof GR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week Mr.GR has sent me a mail which read ...."A friend and classmate of my father, by name Sri Ramaswamy, donated an autobiography by the late TSS Rajan called Ninaivu Alaigal to me.This contains an account of Srirangam as it was about a century ago.So I have translated the relevant portions into English and have sent you the word file containing this translation.TSS Rajan was a minister in the erstwhile Rajaji ministries holding charge of the portfolios of Health and Hindu Religious and Charitable endowments.He was a congressman who left a lucrative practice as a surgeon in Tiruchy to join the freedom struggle.Earlier he went to England to study medicine and was harassed by the orthodox vaishnava community in Srirangam on account of this".
I am pleased and thankful to Professor GR for sharing this piece of information in my blog this week.
.....The festival in Srirangam is a unique event taking place in the whole of India. It is a scene in which the Divyaprabandham, which is the Tamil Veda, is expounded to the common man. Sri Ramanuja had laid down the mode of its celebration.’All persons should practise vaisnavism.The path of liberation is open to everyone. Whatever may be the caste of a person he can reach the good path in this life itself. Moksha is something every one should attain’- this was the principle of Ramanuja. One can see this in the Koil Olugu. It was that great man who caused the idea that srirangam is the temple of the world take root in the minds of people. Even today the pious vaisnava in srirangam when asked what their native place was would reply ”Koil.” That is the actual fact. one in Srirangam is the largest. The Among the temples I have seen in the world the order of festivities, their beauty, rituals, honour, hospitality, customs which are essential for public life and subtle are all in vogue there. They take place as per the injunctions of Ramanuja even today. But if one asks whether there is a life in these traditions, I cannot answer that. Life can be felt by those who lead their lives with devotion to God and an understanding of the philosophy…..
In the rent-free house which we were occupying at the Ahobila Mutt every year a festival used to be celebrated for seven days in the month of Purattasi to mark the birthday of Sri Adivan Sathakopa Mahadesika who was the founder of that mutt. There was a stay order from the court preventing the idol of Adivan Sathakopa mahadesikan from being brought out of the mutt. This was the result of the quarrel between the thenkalais and the vadakalais. When he was alive he led a pious and scholarly life in Tirunarayana puram in Mysore state. One night he dreamt that he was summoned by Lord Lakshmnarasimha who was in a temple in the woods which were on the slopes of Nallamalai in Kurnool district. He went to Ahobilam and became a sannyasi due to the grace of that Lord and along with his idol wandered far and wide in order to propagate vaishnavism. For such an eminent personage this terrible fate had resulted from the petty quarrels among the vaishnavaites. Hence this festival was celebrated inside the mutt….
The way of celebrating festivals in the ahobila mutt was similar to that followed in other vaishnavaite shrines. Daily about 300 to 400 verses from the Divyaprabandhas would be recited by vadakalai vaishnavaites called Goshtiar. This would take about two hours. Then stotras and tanians of the mutt would be recited and this would be followed by the distribution of sandalwood paste, flowers, betel leaves and nut as well as sundal and tamarind rice. First the men would be served, then the boys and finally the women most of whom would be widows…..
Divyaprabandham consists of songs which were the outpourings of their hearts by the Alvars who had been immersed in the devotion to Lord Vishnu, and seen Him and thus forgotten all about their bodily sensations in that experience. Though they were in verse form most of them are composed in simple, lucid Tamil. They were composed by great men and can be understood by ordinary persons. They will not be unintelligible to the Tamil people. However, just as when Tamil musicians sing the compositions of Thyagaraja, when the vaishnavaite goshtiars who had learnt these songs by daily practice recite them their meaning would not be clear even to the pandits in Tamil. Besides, they would not be sung in specific tunes. For example the verses in which Kodai of Srivilliputtur who was also known as Andal and was in love with Lord Ranganatha Himself, has sung about her dream in which she sees herself being married to the lord. These songs are profound in their meaning. Tradition has it that she described her dreams to her friends. Most people can understand if they were sung as ‘varanam ayiram soola valam seythu.’ But the goshtiars sing it as ‘varaana mayeeram soolaava lam seythu’ and it becomes difficult to understand for the listener. It is the same case with the other verses.
One group of people belonging to the Goshti would recite two lines and then another group would sing the next two lines. When they recited the verses of Tirucchanda viruttam of Tirumalisaippiran it would appear as if the two groups were fighting with each other. I would burst into uncontrollable laughter when I thought that they were abusing each other. I would hide myself behind a pillar until they finished the songs of this viruttam and would not run away only because at the end of it there would be the distribution of tamarind rice.
Looking back it now appears to me that the remuneration given to these people for reciting prabandhas is paltry. The reward they get cannot be defined in economic terms. Devotion and poverty have been friends always. Worldly attachment dissolves gradually in devotion and one sees the divine within. There is no change in this in any religion.
My knowledge of Tamil, it seems to me, was due to my listening to these songs when I was young. It is the conclusion of elders that the Divyaprabandha is the essence of vedic knowledge. For those who do not know Sanskrit and suffer in pursuit of a way towards liberation Divyaprabandha is a great asset. Every one can learn it regardless of their sex or caste. The propagation of the Divyaprapanda is going on even today in Srirangam through the Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival.
This festival takes place for twenty days. It consists of two parts viz. Pakalpattu an Irappattu. Vaikuntha ekadasi is on the first day of Irappattu. The family of Tiruvarangaperumal Arayar has the right to sing the Tamil Prabandhas in the temple. They live in four houses adjoining the Ahobila mutt. They are the descendents of Nathamunigal who presided over the first recital of the Ramayana of Kampan in the thousand pillared mandapa. Nathamuni who compiled the Tiruvaymoli is one of the vaishnavaite preceptors. This festival used to be inaugurated only with his benediction in olden days. The idol of Nathamunigal has the vadakalai namam whereas the Arayars of the temple belong to the tenkalai sect. It is not known when this difference started. Because of this dispute the Arayars of the temple have been singing the Prabandhas without the command of Nathamunigal.
The song has rhythm also. But the rhythm is unchanging. In some portions of the songs they also enact the song. When I was a small boy the dance of one Rangasami Arayar used to be very appealing. He had a well built body and was very fair. He had twelve namams which were painted without any deviations.He wore a dhoti with silk border in pancakaccham which was tied at the waist with a silk shawl. The garlands from the lord were on his chest. He had a diadem on his head. I cannot forget the dance he performed with all this paraphernalia. It may be said that after him there has been no other Arayar who danced like him.
After the dance they would explain the pasurams which had been recited on the previous day. Some one would read in a low tone from behind the commentaries from Arayirapadi, Panneerayiraadi etc and the same would be repeated by the Arayar in a loud voice. That commentary would be in a style which was not intelligible to both of them. No one in the audience would pay any attention to it. It would appear that the commentators had only tried to exhibit their scholarship.
After singing the songs of Periyalvar who was also known as Vishnuchitta of Villiputtur, they would enact in the afternoon some of the episodes of Krishna’s pranks in prose. No one used any make-up. One of the Arayars would play the role of a gopika and another, that of Krishna. The children of their families would act as cowherds and also as cows by kneeling down. There would be no percussion instruments, rhythm, playback singing, dressing up of characters for male or female roles, colourful curtains etc. Only if one had devotion can one pay attention to this play.
Th idols of Alvars were seated on either side in the hall. They were all in the posture of worship with closed eye and folded hands. One could not even find out who is who among them. Even for the Arayars who attended the festival daily it was a matter of some doubt. I have also tried when I was young to find it out but I did not succeed.
Ramanuja called Udaiyavar had a tripole made of copper and hence could be identified. One could also distinguish Tirumangai Alvar, known as Kallap piran, since he had a sword and a shield in his hands. One could identify Kurattalvar from his beard. The others could not be recognized. I was not sure if any one was interested in doing so either. I was more interested in watching the play in the afternoon than in listening to the pasurams. I would go with my aunt and sit there without getting bored.
After the Arayar sevai, they would drop the curtain and offer various eatables such as dosai, vadai, selvar appam and other snacks to the Lord accompanied by the clanging of bells and beating of drums. They would be distributed after the curtain was raised. The flavour of the newly melted ghee in Srirangam would permeate those snacks along with the fragrance of kasturi worn by Ranganatha. I was not entitled for a share in them because I was not one of the temple servants nor any hereditary rights in the temple.Such persons who had rights or were in temple service would take away those eatables in tens, scores or fifties or hundreds and sell them off. If one had money one could get the offerings to the Lord as much as one wanted. But I had no money and would watch with frustration everything being carried away. Even after all the baskets had been taken away there would remain one or two basketfuls of snacks which they would crush and distribute to all those who had come to witness the festival.
The method of distribution was unique to Srirangam. Everyone should sit down. The maniakarar of the temple or his representative would point to some one in the crowd. That person would then get up and receive whatever was given to him. The others among the thousands who had gathered there would be looking at the face of the distributor and move into the vacancies created by the lucky ones and wait in the hope that his glance would meet their eyes.
I was one among those who squatted there like this. I would be worrying about the vadakalai namam on my forehead, about my being very young, about my not wearing panchakaccham on account of not being married etc. The eyes would be hovering on the basket of snacks which was fast getting emptied. If it became empty the distribution would stop and nothing more would be left. I would be worried about meeting such a fate. I would pray to the Lord but in the end I would come away without getting anything and with pain in the neck. However I would not give up. I was determined to get something to eat.
The twelve Alvars and Acharyas should arrive at the mandapa well before the arrival of the Perumal on all the twenty days of the festival. The remaining four would come following the Perumal. Alvars had given up even in their lifetime all pleasures and were immersed in their devotion to the Lord, leading a life of poverty. Even today they are in a state of poverty in all vaishnavaite shrines except in the places where they were born. They had to reach the presence of Lord Ranganatha, being seated on pedestals which were carried by four persons. They could not pay the four persons. There was no one who would look after this arrange ment. So they would arrive at the temple only with the help of some who were compassionate and had an interest in vaishnavism.
This plight would not end with their arrival in the mandapa. It was much more difficult for them to go back at the end of the day in the middle of the night. There was no condition that only brahmins should carry them. Any one who had a caste mark on the forehead, even if it was a vadakalai namam, could do it. As payment for this service that person would receive a dosai and a vadai. It occurred to me that I could perform that service and get the dosai and vadai.
I thought that my height and physique were sufficient for this job. Those who carry the alvars should be prepared to do so at least for an hour. When the Alvars are being honoured in the presence of the perumal, one should support the pedestal in the hands and then on the shoulders.
One day I approached a person who was carrying the alvar and asked if I can do it for some time. He gladly agreed. I tried carrying th Alvar. I was a little short but when I folded up my towel and placed it on my shoulder it became all right. It appeared a bit heavy. But I was now confident that I could do it. I soon found out which Alvar was comparatively light and which one did not have any one to carry him and started carrying him. My schoolmates who saw me doing so would make fun of me. At school I got the nickname of alvar carrier.And I got the dosai and vadai free.
My aunt who saw me carrying the Alvar was very happy. She told me that carrying the Alvar was meritorious work and would enable me to pass my exams at school well. I do not know what my parents thought of it. I think they did not know about it. Perhaps it was due to this merit that long afterwards when I became a minister I acquired the charge of managing the devastanams. One should ask my aunt but she had passed away long before that……..
On his return from England after passing the examination in medicine Dr.T.S.S. Rajan returned to India by sea and arrived in Tuticorin. His brotherin-law received him in Maniachi station and traveled with him to Tiruchi. He informed him that all his relatives had thrown him out of their caste as he had travelled overseas. His wife had taken a bungalow outside the town for rent. None of his parents and relatives invited him home. He met Sri.K.V.Rangaswamy Iyengar
Who arranged a formal reception for him but did not eat or drink anything in the party.
On his insistence he visited him late in the night for dinner but took care to see that no one else knew about it. His attitude did not inspire confidence in Rajan’s mind that with his help he could overcome the unfair restrictions placed on him by the conservative people in Srirangam. Their leaders told him that his travel overseas had no sanction from the scriptures and therefore he had forfeited his position in the brahminical society. Dr.Rajan went to Rangoon with his family and returned after two years in order to look for a suitable bridegroom for his daughter. Two chapters of his biography deal with his experiences at that time in Srirangam. They are translated below in order to give an idea of life in Srirangam in the latter half of the 19th and earlier half of the 20th centuries.
The bastion of orthodoxy The difficulties I faced upon my return from abroad often tormented me. Even for the worldly Brahmins who had crossed the Bay of Bengal and gone to Burma to earn their livelihood in various ways I appeared to be a greater criminal because I had crossed the seas over a much larger distance! However most of the Brahmins in Rangoon had considered me as one of them. Even today after 64 years when my thoughts have become mature it is not clear to me how the crowds of vaidikas (orthodox persons) and their social structure and rituals have held a sway over my mind in those days.
Perhaps my having been born in such a traditional family and grown up in a religious centre containing such orthodox people, my having observed all the customs of the temple in my early days and marrying a woman hailing from a similar background, The idea that the religious doctrines were the basis of our nationalist sentiment, my apprehension that if we discard the caste structure and its hierarchy and the ancient arts and culture it would lead to the downfall of the country – all these had tormented me. My parents, relatives and local friends had all joined together to boycott me and I was afraid of the orthodox community.
My foolish fear that I would not be able to find a good partner for my daughter also was perhaps responsible for this. I was worried about how to overcome the obstruction from the orthodox community of Srirangam in this matter. The jeeyar of ahobila mutt who was our preceptor for generations and who was the authority in deciding such matters according to the scriptures supported the orthodox brahmins in their boycott. Sri. Kodiyalam Rangaswamy Iyengar who was my friend did not come forward to extend his support to me openly. My parents also did not approach me. They were on the contrary placing obstacles to my efforts in looking for a groom for my daughter. I only had a saving of rupees 4000 for conductin the marriage of my daughter. In this Sri Veeraraghava Iyengar who founded the Srirangam high School and was my former schoolteacher was of great help to me.
There are two major divisions among the Vaishnavas in Srirangam. The main difference between them is only with regard to the caste mark. Those who wear a U shaped namam are called vadagalais and those who draw a line on their nose are known as tengalais. I had never understood why they have been quarreling with each other incessantly. There is no diference between them in eating habits, dress or other transactions. Each had blood relatives and relatives belonging to the other sect.
The teachers from tenkalai sect had disciples from vadagalais. Both had knowledge and proficiency in Sanskrit and Tamil. However it is held that the vadagalais are more learned in Sanskrit while tenkalais were more proficient in Tamil. There are no differences in other ceremonies, social mores and food habits. The tengalais had more rights and served in greater numbers in the vaishnavite shrines than the vadagalais. But both sects recite the Vedas and sing the prabandhas. Among the preceptors there have been both tengalai and vadagalai acharyas.
In spite of all these common features, there have persisted quarrels, arguments, court cases, civil and criminal proceedings between them in the major temple towns like Srirangam and Kanchipuram. Many cases are pending in the Chennai High court.
The lawyers have a lot of income on this account. Courts have both work and income. There is no dearth of litigants, false witnesses and public funds raised to meet the expenses. They would obtain verdict from judges who had no concept or idea of Hindu religion. They would not hesitate to approach Muslim or Christian judges either.
Most of the persons engaged in such quarrels are persons who belonged to the old generation who are not aware of the present day world. But even educated persons who were aware of the modern times would take art in them. Many of them had no knowledge of the national movement, the changes in the society, the trend of the times or politics. Their main effort was to secure liberation by suppressing each other. There is no limit to this feud!
Both sects did not agree to remove the aspersion caste on me on account of my having gone overseas. The general fund of the vadagalais was in very poor shape in this quarrel. Many of them had taken loans on their own or collectively in order to raise funds for court expenses. They could not manage the troubles due to their indebtedness.
At this juncture Veeraraghava Iyengar interceded on my behalf and made them agree to certain conditions which were invented by him:
1. I should donate rupees five hundred to the general fund of the vadagalai sect.
2. I should pay another rupees five hundred for those who performed the ritual af atonement on my behalf.
3. On the banks of Akhandakaveri I should perform rituals in atonement of all my sins starting from the thread ceremony again in the presence of four orthodox Brahmins.
4. Go to Sethu with the four Brahmins and stay there for three days to bathe thirty six times in the sea and perform charities.
5. The orthodox priests would then ome and perform the wedding rituals of my daughter.
6. I should not compel any one who does not wish to eat in my house.
7. they should not trouble those of my friends and relatives who come to my house and partake of food and take part in the marriage by ostracizing them.
Preparations were made to re-induct me into my case with so many conditions. The bridegroom or his relatives did not wish that I should incur all these expenses and get back into the bastion of orthodoxy. But I did all this only so that my parents and relatives who lived in Srirangam would not be put to any trouble on account of their having participated in the marriage. Even after subjecting myself to all this indignity and befriending the orthodox community I could not get my friend, Sri. Rangaswamy Iyengar to eat in the wedding. But he used all his influence and put at my disposal all the facilities available to him in order to enable me to perform the wedding with pomp.
In the orthodox community opinion varied regarding the ritual of atonement performed for me. Scholars who were proficient in the Vedas and knew the scriptures condemned the action of the priests strongly. Their objection was that the latter had adopted a means which had no sanction from the scriptures in order to extract money from me. My parents did not participate in my daughter’s wedding.
Very few among my relatives attended it. It was not religious conviction which prevented my parents from coming. It was their jealousy of my wife. On top of this my father said:” What kind of marriage is this! He scattered money like pebbles. A lot of people assembled because of that. Who among my people came?”
After I left Srirangam the orthodox world there became a battlefield. Others started boycotting the priests who had come to the wedding in my house. The chief priest was nicknamed as London Brahma. The chief cook was called London Sundaram. Some of them who were worried that their livelihood would be affected became sanctified after they performed atonement themselves and shared their income with the rest. This storm in the cooking vessel raged for a few days and then all was quiet. For that the main reason was my departure from the scene.
In Srirangam the fights over castemark, the clannish feuds and litigations are still persisting. Even my own preceptor, the Jeeyar of Ahobila mutt, has not yet accepted me into the fold of his disciples. When I became a minister in the cabinet of the Madras Presidency, he agreed to accept me as his disciple but I did ot consent to it. Further the orthodox community will not easily forgive me for having struggled along with Rajaji to open the temples for Harijans in my capacity as the leader of the Harijana Sevasangham. Every one knows that this orthodoxy has weakened on account of derelictions from righteous path and I have no desire to add to their woes………. London Desikar
I tried to work hard to change the hearts of the conservatives to be in tune with the condition of the country by working with them. I did not consider carefully whether this would be possible. How can some one like me change these people who are clinging to their ancient traditions without regard to the changes in the country’s governance, the government and in social systems? Is this not a futile effort? I who had no qualification to be one among the conservatives did not think how appropriate it was on my part to undertake such a task. It only shows my recklessness that I embarked on something that many great intellectuals and personages who were well versed in the scriptures and were also conversant with the modern trends could not accomplish.
I took as my first step the custom of welcoming to my house the priests who came to perform many rituals with love and devotion. I gave them twice or thrice the amount which was due to them as their payment for conducting these ceremonies. I did not have the knowledge or training which would enable me to understand the significance of those rituals. However I observed them as sincerely as possible. I did not stint on the ceremonies for the living and those for the deceased. I considered them as God’s devotees and prostrated myself before them in gratitude for having graced my function, visited my home and accepted the little money I offered them. But I cannot tell how my behaviour towards them was echoed in their hearts. It appeared to me that most of them looked upon me as a criminal for whose upliftment they had antagonized their colleagues and subjected themselves to humiliation on my account out of pity for me. Only through the power of the money I offered them I could bring them to my home but my human approach did not appeal to them.
Many of those orthodox priests were poor and did not have the knowledge of the Vedas or character. They had learnt only the rituals and were sorry that they were unable to practice any other profession because they did not have an English education. Some who were learned in the vedic scriptures also were in this group of priests who only conducted such rituals for others. They enjoyed great respect in the community of priests. But for me who practiced a medical profession there was no need of their regard or support. My services for them was not out of an expectation of anything in return. There was no unity even among the vadagalais who belonged to the same sect. the basic reasons for this were their mutual condescension, jealousy, pride, greed and poverty.
The final prayer of each one belonging to the vadagalai sect is: “ Oh Desika of Thooppul,may you live for another century.” The prayer was that he might live for another century even after six hundred years since he died. It was an appeal for them to remind themselves of their duty to protect the treasure that had been bequeathed by him to the vadagalais. It is necessary that the people of Tamil Nadu know who was Vedanta Desika of Thooppul, what sort of person he was and what was the treasure left behind by him. What right do I have to write about him? Just the fact that I am a Tamil. The vadagalais struggle to conduct the brahmotsavam for him every year either before or after his birthstar by collecting money. I have witnessed this festival from my childhood. In my childhood days it was unforgettable to me on account of the various types of food offerings. After gaining maturity I came to know the purpose of this festival, the greatness of the person in whose honour it being was celebrated and my responsibility towards it.
In no way can I claim to be fit to write about Vedanta Desika. Even though I can understand his works I lack the practice for it. Most of his works are in Sanskrit. I can only read the Sanskrit alphabets with some difficulty. Nor do I have the scholarship for understanding his works in Tamil. But I am sad that I have spent my life without studying them. I would like to introduce him to the Tamil people to the extent I can. Further the service to Sri Desikan is one of my religious acts of service in Srirangam. I write this as a layman after learning about the glory of the preceptor of the vadagalais.
Thooppul is a village near Kanchipuram. It is now a part within the municipal limits, lying on the road leading from Chinna Kanchi to Periya Kanchi. Vedanta Desika was born six hundred years ago in an orthodox vaishnavite family with the name, Varadachariar. He became proficient in scriptures and became a great scholar. He was a noble person who was convinced that there is no greater wealth than knowledge and led an austere life happily and with pride. Those who worship him say that he meditated on the Nadabrahmam and was the incarnation of the bell of Sri Venkatachalapathi who is in the Chandragiri hill. He had the title Kavitarkikakesari. In his time there was none who surpassed him in scholarship and logical argument. He could establish that the path laid down by Ramanuja was the best by arguing with any one belonging to any other sect. He was equally proficient in Sanskrit and Tamil.
He was also a scholar of the manipravala language which was a mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit. He obtained the food for his household by collecting alms every day. The phrase Desika vrtti for taking alms was coined from his time.
Once there was an invitation from the Vijayanagar king for him to be a scholar in his court. He refused to sell his knowledge and be paid for his service to the king. He is said to have replied that as long as the begging bowl was in his hand he would not bow to any king. He lived for more than a hundred years. He has authored more than a hundred works. He has composed several works in Tamil. Especially his works on the philosophy of Ramanuja are celebrated. He has expressed his thoughts in prose, poems and plays. He was well versed in all arts including magic. Hence he had the title sarvatantrasvtantra. He was small in build but in fame he was great without limit and was incomparable in character. Wherever the vaishnava dharma had to be established and its greatness should be demonstrated he went and was successful in the task on account of his scholarship. Thus he served the society during the whole of his life and authored many great works.
He lived for many years on the banks of the river Gedilam near Manjakkupam in a place called Tiruvaheendrapuram. He had a large number of disciples all over the Tamil country. He also lived in Srirangam for a long time and through disputations with saiva and samana leaders established the superiority of the vaishnava philosophy. He had the final position among the acharyas of the vaishnavas. People tried to offer him the honour of first getting the holy water in the temple but he declined it and said that he would receive it only after all other devotees had received the same. There is no better proof than this for his humility. When Allauddin Khilji invaded Srirangam and plundered the temple it is said that Desikar was inside the temple and hiding his small body under the heap of corpses during the day he escaped northwards across the Coleroon river at night.
Many were the exploits of Desikan and there is no place here to describe them in detail. He dedicated his life for the cause of the vaishnava religion and led a simple life serving the society. He is celebrated by vadagalai vaishnavas as their preeminent preceptor and is present in the form of an idol in many vaishnavaite shrines today. One trembles at the sight of contemporary vaishnavaites who offer worship to his idol in the temples and recite his works. There are some learned men who have studied his works deeply in south India today. Mostly the devotees spread his message only by wearing the caste mark.
The quarrel over the temple of Desikan in Srirangam is not easy to forget. The battles in the courts of the British government between the vadagalais and the thengalais are taking place in all temples of Desikan. Desikan who has been installed inside the temple in Srirangam for over 700 years is a prisoner inside his temple in accordance with the restraining law of the government. His movement has been stopped because it causes conflict. The festivals, worship etc take place inside the sanctum sanctorum and near the entrance of his temple. Even though the vadagalais have tried to bring him out several times they have not succeeded. Because they could not obtain justice from the courts the vadagalais changed the course of their suit. They started the issue whether the streets inside the municipal limits of Srirangam are common to all and obtained the verdict that they are common to every one. But how can Desikan who is inside the temple in the fourth prakaram be brought out into the streets? In order to overcome this obstacle some of them bought a small house in the chithra street, converted it into a temple for Desikan and celebrated his festivals there on days next to his birthstar. There is nothing wrong in this. But in the town there were now two Desikans! Desikan who remained imprisoned inside and Desikan who was outside- there were celebrations in both places.
The vadagalais had to now take care of two Desikans. Most of them worshipped the one who was outside while the very orthodox ones worshipped the Desikan who was inside. Srirangam is a sacred place. Many vadagalai ascetics who wish to die in that place have built hermitages on the banks of the Coleroon and live in them. One group of them became the devotees of Uldesikar and another group, of the Velidesikar.
I was performing whatever service I could to Velidesikar whom the group of priests who conducted the ceremony of atonement for me worshipped. This was not liked by the ultra orthodox who therefore started calling Velidesikar London Desikar, on my account.
In the meantime, because the sanctity of Velidesikar was affected by me, one of the vadagalai ascetics bought another house in Uthra street and converted it into a temple for Desikan. Thus there came to be three temples for Desikan in the same town. Do not be surprised that such a situation can occur in any society with brains. There appeared no one who followed the way shown by Desikan at least in order to offer worship to him. One temple multiplied into three due to perpetual quarrel and jealousy. They remain even to this day as institutions pointing to the the degradation of the vadagalais. Three persons who did not even know the term London had got titles involving London on my account. One was the cook, London Sundaram. The other was the priest who officiated as Brahma in my daughter’s wedding; he was called London Brahma. The third was Velidesikar who came to be known as London Desikar. Because of their association I had even lost the feeling that I had been to London.
A foolish thought occurred in my mind that the two groups of vaishnavites should be united. For this I took the help of a railway clerk belonging to thengalai sect who was my neighbour and started an association called Srirangam Bharatheeya Vaishnava Sabha. I tried to arrange lectures on the common vaishnavaite concepts and discussions among scholars and to reward them. This effort went on well for two years through great effort. But no result of the kind I expected came out of it. I came to know some reasons for this. In both sects most of the priests wore the caste mark and performed ceremonies only for a livelihood. They were ignorant of the scriptures and had no practice in them. These were the ones who carried on the fights, invented the reasons for excommunicating individuals and cried hoarse about the defilement of religion. My efforts could never bear fruit among them. Some of the learned priests among them were intent only on the payment they received. The super orthodox priests not only did not come forward to support me but also were finding fault with me indirectly. After two years I was heartbroken and stopped my activities. I did not feel sorry for having stopped them. No one was there to persuade me to carry on with those activities. My experiences bear testimony to the situation prevailing in our orthodox society. I realized that I did not have the energy to serve them. In due course my interest in religious matters dwindled.
Old Comments from my previous blog.
I stumbled upon your blog accidentally and I wonder how I didn't come across this blog earlier. I read through all of your posts on Srirangam and few others as well and they really make an interesting read.
I have lived in Srirangam (West Adayavalanjan) for three years (93-96)during my college days (National) and ever since I have fallen for that place. Ever since, if someone asks for my native place, I call it Srirangam. Incidentally, I got married at Srirangam last year. Though I am so fond of the town, I have never managed to read through its history and am glad that you are doing a fantastic job through your blog.
Like many others, I am also a big fan of Sujatha and still relish the time I met him & sought his autograph during a function organised by Vikatan group.
Do continue your good work & Take care.
- Chakkarapani Sampath.
Fri Aug 06, 04:39:20 PM IST
Post by Sudhar
Thanks to Desikan for publishing this and many more thanks to Prof.GR for eloquently translating the piece. It is disheartening to read how much TSS Rajan was humiliated inspite of all his genuine efforts to salvage the legendary pride of vaishnavism and specifically of the vadagalai sect. The worst and sadest part of it, even after 100 or so years after this experience of TSS R, things more or less remain the same! Inspite of all the questioning I have thrown across to my parents and learned relatives, there has been no convincing answers to this sectorial and heir issues. Although on the face of it each sect seem to accept the other, it seems to be well known that they foul-talk about the other from behind. Neverthless, TSSR invigorated my small but strong beliefs in Vaishnava heritage and sampradhayams. Thanks much to you both.
Thu, Aug 5 2004 11:59
Post by srishiv
hi desi its really a nice essay by the prof..nalla irunthathu...avar patta kastangalum padichappa evlo kastapattu vanthirukkarnu therinthathu..nandri..thodarungal... anbudan srishiv...
Sat, Aug 7 2004 2:58